I watched Udta Punjab yesterday. I hope a lot of India’s youth also watch this movie. No, I am not trying to help with the marketing of the movie, but I sure want to help market the message.
Drug menace is nothing new to Punjab, or the rest of India. In fact, it was a serious topic of discussion in households when I was growing up in the 1980s. Thankfully, then there was just one public broadcaster and not the confusion of news channels we have now. Thankfully, the public broadcaster took its job seriously and addressed issues that mattered. Thankfully, there were more than a handful of programming that hammered in how drugs were evil and why you needed to stay clear of this menace. Thankfully, the message worked.
I have not touched a lit cigarette in my life or tried drinks stronger than wine or sweet cocktails. And I am convinced that it was the fear Doordarshan serials like Chunauti, Subah and Nayi Dishayen put in me that kept me away from all the stronger influences you encounter in schools and colleges.
We didn’t have a lot of drugs around schools or colleges in Kerala, but it was easy to get a heady smoke thanks to homegrown ganja, popular as Swamy or Guruji. Anything stronger was detested even by those who loved the milder highs. They, too, had seen the serials. I remember being petrified when I saw brown sugar for the first time, only to be calmed down that this was just another sugar that was brown and not what was injected into your veins by the villainous college seniors in television serials.
WATCH | Udta Punjab Mashup
Yes, this was a big fear. What if someone injected you with one of these drugs? The general impression among my peers was that you are addicted with the first dose. That was scary enough.
I am not naive enough to say none of my friends tried any of this stuff. But then we didn’t have the excuse that we were not warned. We just had to turn on television to get a daily dose of the ‘fear of drugs’ sermon. Though a bit Goebbelsian in method, this did work for a generation or two.
But the fact that it worked, seems to have made us take our foot off the pedal. There were none of these discussions in the 1990s or the decade that came after that. There were no movies on the topic and television sure didn’t care about any powder that was lighter than the Sindoor. We could have kept our youth more entertained, and informed that the needle certainly carries a strong sting. And given the experience with my generation, things might just have worked.
Udta Punjab is just a decent movie, but it has a strong message we cannot ignore. For most of the young crowd who were in the theatre with me yesterday, it might have felt like another movie. What message will they get when they end up listening to Chaar Bottle Vodka at birthday parties of four-year-olds? What message will we get if we encourage such lyrics even on 7 am radio shows? It is time we woke up from this self-induced stupor.